June 23, 2024

The Twilight of the G7

Vijay Prashad

FROM June 13 to 15, the leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) countries met at a luxury spa called Borgo Egnazia in the Italian town of Savelletri. The entire meeting had the air of obsolescence. All of the leaders of the G7 have negative approval ratings: prime minister Rishi Sunak of the United Kingdom (-54 per cent), chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany (-51 per cent), prime minister Fumio Kishida of Japan (-40 per cent), prime minister Justin Trudeau of Canada (-38 per cent), president Emmanuel Macron of France (-31 per cent), president Joe Biden of the United States (-18.5 per cent), and prime minister Giorgio Meloni of Italy (-10 per cent). Sunak is fated to be voted out of office in the UK elections of July 4, while it is looking more and more likely that Biden will lose the US presidential election against Donald Trump on November 5. Macron’s party did so poorly in the European parliamentary election that he called a hasty election for late June and early July, where it is likely that his party will significantly lose to the far-right and the left popular alliance. These are the cast of characters that make up the leaders of the G7 -- six men whose political fortunes are in decline, and only one woman who hosted the meeting and whose ultra-right views brought her into dispute with the men in the room (over abortion rights, which she opposes).

Perhaps because this was a meeting of leaders who will not be leaders very soon, it is not important to pay too much attention to the G7. Will the communique agreed upon by  them have any validity when the political balance of forces changes in the countries that are part of the G7? Certainly, the election in the UK will have little impact on the G7 policy, since the likely winner – the Labour Party with its current leader Keir Starmer – is as chauvinistic when it comes to the G7’s jingoistic policy toward China and Russia. But the elections in both France (where the prime minister will likely be from the far-right although Macron will remain till 2027) and the United States will produce a result that will shift the mood decidedly toward a less aggressive posture toward Russia for pragmatic reasons, but will not necessarily change the anti-China orientation of both the G7 and therefore of its military alliance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). Trump has said that if he returns to the White House, he will have a less Atlantic view of things, and will allow the Europeans to build their own security architecture that will not be underwritten by the taxpayers of the United States. Whether the European electorate is willing to lift military spending, which is what would be required, and to persist in a condition of long-term austerity as a consequence which would include fuel-price inflation due to the slow-down on Russian energy imports, is to be seen. The European parliament election results show that the European voters are not willing to go along with the G7-NATO orientation against Russia if this means reduced living standards within Europe.

The entire sensibility of the G7 meeting was hypocritical and confounding. While the G7 fully backed Ukraine in the continued war of attrition on its soil, it made high-sounding declarations about Israel’s genocidal war against the Palestinians but did not condemn the Israeli government in any way. The continued focus on Russia and the silence over Israel made the entire G7 meeting seem stale and out-of-touch with the general sentiment not only in the world, but amongst the populations of the G7 countries (in the United States, for instance, a large majority of the population would like to see a ceasefire in Gaza; the G7 leaders hid behind a fallacious formula that puts faith in Biden’s hallucinatory ‘comprehensive deal’ that is at variance with the negotiations that had taken place in Cairo between the Israelis and the Palestinians and that had been brokered by Egypt and Qatar). Even news reports from the G7 did not carry the proposals from the leadership, focusing more on the fact that Biden looked disoriented and that the location of the meeting was beautiful. These are distractions. No major analysis of the proposals appeared in any of the news reports because there was nothing really to analyse in the empty gestures and tired rhetoric of the G7 communique.

Take for example what the G7 says about the economy. There is language in the communique that could have been written in the 1990s, during the high-point of globalisation (‘fostering strong and inclusive economic growth, maintaining financial stability’). The analysis does not begin from reality, which would force the G7 to acknowledge that its own economies are struggling with sluggish growth, that whatever growth exists is highly unevenly distributed, that precarious work has overcome decent work, and that austerity seems to have become a permanent condition for ordinary people; it would have to accept that global growth is being fostered by countries outside the orbit of the G7 (such as China and India), and that policies to de-couple from these countries will not necessarily only hurt them but will largely impact the already struggling economies of the G7. Further macho language about seizing Russian sovereign assets to pay for the high-minded policies of the G7 will accelerate the process already underway by many countries in the global south to park their own sovereign assets in gold or other currencies than either the dollar or the euro, since they now fear confiscation of their assets if they are in western currencies and in the western financial system. All the talk about ‘rules-based’ makes no sense to countries, even such as Saudi Arabia, which has abandoned the fifty-year old petro-dollar scheme out of fear of such confiscations. The entire section on the global economy in the G7 discussions is not fact-based, but based on an ideological framework from another time (during the apex of globalisation).

One of the key areas of incoherence is on supply chains. The G7 commits itself to ‘building resilient economies and supply chains’, which is a curious statement coming from countries that have accepted the policies of the United States government related to broad-sector ‘de-coupling’ from the Chinese economy, which is the largest trading partner not only of most countries in the world but of many of the G7 states, and from the Russian economy, which continues to provide discounted rate energy to many countries of the global south (including India, whose prime minister Narendra Modi was at the sidelines of the G7 meeting). But the idea of building supply chains, even if through the World Trade Organisation (WTO), is not to build reliable transport networks for the globe. This is a policy that is very much in line with the New Cold War of the United States. That is why the US has pushed the supply chain discussion into one that is about the need to ‘collectively identify critical goods, strategic sectors, and supply chains, for future coordination within the G7’. The whole discussion is about what the US claims is a resource war with the countries that are growing fast (most of them in Asia) and that have made commercial claims to resources from around the world. These resource claims are to be denied by force if necessary, and the pathways for ‘critical goods’ must be controlled either by western states or by western-owned multinational corporations. While the G7 does not directly mention China or other states that follow dirigiste or State-managed policies, it does indicate through a general way that the targets of the G7 trade war are countries with State-owned enterprises and that manage their economies closely (for instance, the target of G7 policies are ‘opaque and harmful industrial subsidies, market distortive practices of State-owned enterprises and all forms of forced technology transfers’). Not only does the discussion around supply chains revolve around creating a bifurcated world economy in the name of the global economy, but it also seeks to militarise supply lines by misusing the 1982 Convention on the Laws of the Seas (which has not been ratified by the United States, who nonetheless use the concept of ‘freedom of navigation’ that emerges from that convention against anyone who wants to develop sovereignty over their waters, such as the Yemenis over the part of the Red Sea channel and the Iranians over the part of the Gulf that form their territorial waters).

Despite the liberal language about ‘food security’ and ‘sustainable development’, the focus of the G7 meeting was on deepening the New Cold War against Russia and China. Billions of dollars – which the G7 countries could use to improve the employment conditions and their infrastructure – will go to continue the war in Ukraine which has stalled, and which can only move forward in dangerous directions (if the NATO countries allow Ukraine to attack Russian territory with NATO weapons). For a reader who is not committed to the eternal rule of the G7, the language is filled with remarkable distortions. ‘Iran must cease its destabilising actions’, say the G7 leaders, but that itself sounds bizarre in the context of an Israeli genocidal war against the Palestinians and Israeli attacks on Iranian diplomats in Syria. It is Israel, backed by the global north, and it is NATO, backed by the G7, that are destabilising forces in the world. It would be outrageous to expect the G7 to consider itself a destabilising force, but that is indeed its role. When the G7 meets in 2025 in Alberta, Canada, it will have a different political complexion and face a world that will pay less attention even than now to its proposals. This is indeed the twilight of the G7.